I run the "Philosophy Film Series" (and the corresponding "Pub Talks") at my college, a task I enjoy so much that it doesn't even seem like work. I'm always pleasantly surprised to find that our students are very sophisticated film viewers, and my job as the facilitator of our discussions is often impeded by my desire to just let them talk and talk and talk.
Our last film was Sam Mendes' 1999 masterpiece American Beauty. I remember being moved to tears the first time I saw that film-- and completely unable to account for my visceral, mostly unreflective, and exceedingly vulnerable reaction. I also remember at some point having an elaborate argument about how American Beauty and Fight Club (which was released the same year) were essentially the same film with different ethical payouts, but unfortunately I can't remember how that argument went. I've got to start writing these things down...
Anyway, on this viewing, I found myself just as moved by the fragile, weary, neurotic and human-all-too-human characters. Mendes managed to strike just the right chord in this film, a delicate balance of suburban arrogance and suburban angst. But this time, unlike any time before, I was terribly disappointed with the ending. [**SPOILER ALERT** Stop reading now if you haven't seen the film!] Of course, I'm not talking about the fact that Lester, the main character played by Kevin Spacey, is murdered in the end. I was disappointed in the film's "epilogue"-- where Lester, in his voiceover narration from beyond the grave, assures us that if we have yet to see the "beauty" in this life, we shouldn't worry, because "someday [we] will."
This is what I don't like about that: the entire film seems to suggest that developing a capacity to see what is beautiful in our otherwise mundane, often very ugly, existence is a remarkable achievement. It's as close to a "virtue" that one can find in Mendes' spiritually-empty American suburbia. So, when the tragic (anti-)hero curtails the miracle of that achievement by assuring it to everyone from the point-of-view of some happy afterlife, the whole tragic beauty of the film seems cheapened.
But, then again, maybe that's what makes it an "American" beauty.